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Readers Respond: How to Understand Abstract Art

Responses: 65


What does abstract art mean and how do you begin to understand it? Does abstract art have any meaning, or is it all about the pleasing arrangement of colors and shapes? Do artists paint abstracts because they haven't the skills to do realism? Or is eliminating a recognizable subject the ultimate form of artistic expression? Share your views on creating and understanding abstract art here.

Beyond Realism

Well-executed realism is impressive on its own, and overshadows other technical aspects such as composition or technique. If an artist really wants to focus on the raw power of composition without the extra baggage of realistic imagery, his task is not without challenge. In the absence of visual symbols, shoddy composition work is plainly obvious, and poor technique draws attention to itself. Good abstract art is no accident, and requires as much creativity and technical experience as realism. Any well-focused photograph shot by an amateur is realistic enough, but most of them would make crappy art because composition is more important than realism. Someone who understands composition will be able to take that crappy photograph and crop it just so: suddenly there is art in the image. Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Picasso, Dali, Escher, Munch; as students they could put the photograph to shame. But their realism isn't what they are known for. Realism gets boring after a point.

Abstract Art

Some people think abstract art is easy, as some think Impressionism is also, to those I would say try both and realise the skills required; others believe abstract has some hidden meaning, not really necessarily so, some of my abstract paintings actually have almost hidden images, but this is all totally random, and has no meaning at all, of course the viewer can interpret any way they want.
—Guest rabon2

To Abstract Art

People who view abstract art need to keep an open mind. Artists who paint abstractly may have a medical condition that prevents them from painting realistic, that is my case. It takes skill, sense of color, and a basic working knowledge of art. Everyone needs to be exposed to abstract art, if you like it or not doesn't matter. At least you were exposed to it.
—Guest frank hockett

abstract has a bad reputation

Abstract painting has a bad reputation because it is too easy. As an undergraduate in college, I tried it and found it too easy, and not challenging, but I didn't understand it well enough. Good abstract painting is more difficult to do "well". The realist knows how hard it is to not only capture a likeness, but to instill a painting with more, to give it what inspired us or caught our interest initially. That is true of the abstract painter as well. Franz Klein fell in love with the strong graphic impact of man made structures from the industrial age. He painted small preliminaries in black and white using soot and glue on pages of discarded telephone books, because they were cheap, and available when he was poor, but it was the graphic impact of the abstract forms that caught his imagination. Translated into large canvases, they became understandable, relatable and popular. He never had to paint with soot again. If you try abstract, walk a mile in those shoes not 10 feet.

Good abstract art is HARD

I am not a painter but a collage artist and I find that doing a good abstract collage is much harder than doing more representational collage, which is what I do. Every time I try to do a collage abstract I tear it apart because it looks contrived. I definitely appreciate how difficult abstract art-making is - I also appreciate the difficulty of painting any subject (representational) and making it have a soul. By the way, I do not think photography has replaced representational art at all - they are different types of art.

Love Abstract

Thanks for this response. One of my 2014 resolutions was to stop trying to 'describe' things in a painting and focus on creating an emotional view of what I'm seeing. I've also vowed to focus more on abstract painting. When I paint in abstract; I feel something different happening with the creative process.
—Guest bamboo

All Art Abstract

Any kind of created image is abstract to me especially that of a painter or sculptor. You will never see a real woman who looks like a Divinci woman or a real landscape that looks like a Gainsborough. Although these paintings "convey" reality; they don't look like "true" reality. In my own journey with art, I've found a broken bottle can look like diamonds glittering in the sun, patterns of colors on fall leaves look like someone took varying colors of paint and spattered them with abstract designs and that shadows are often shades of colors. Art is an abstract idea in itself, the ability to convey to canvas or whatever medium used by an artist the "idea" of a place or thing. In my own art I use a mixture of so called "real" images along with the purely abstract to convey a thought or feeling or idea. It's amazing just to create anything, everything with whatever is there to work with.
—Guest Gail Mansel

Chance Skill

Abstract art is like all the greatest games, there is a perfect balance of randomness and skill. The perfect balance between man and nature. If sculpting, the clay will suggest the shape to the sculptor who will in turn follow this shape using his or her unique style and technique. Same goes for paint. This balance of chance and skill is what makes abstract art so appealing and entertaining; just like a game of poker. Abstract art is a controlled accident.
—Guest Volka Dale

No Need for Representational Art

There is no longer any NEED for representational art, since we have photography. Representational art isn't art at ALL, it shows no creativity, no reflection, and no soul. It's glorified paint-by-numbers. It HAD a need in a pre-photography world, to document people and places, but no longer. In fact, even photography has grown beyond the single purpose of ONLY representing the 'apparent'. I myself do both abstract photography and abstract acrylic painting.

Abstract Art

When I was a child my parents and family always tried to structure me, put me in a box. As a result I grew completely out of touch with my creative side which eventually affected my health. I had a major break in consciousness and, out of that break, I began to paint again, not just abstract but whatever came out of that deep subconscious. In my opinion, art cannot be manufactured or structured, it is either inside of us or not. Art is organic and unless someone is born with afflictions, we all start out on equal footing. The mind is a muscle and unless it is primed and used it becomes atrophied. Art is that mind, art is that breath of freedom, a voice, a way out.
—Guest osiris munir

For Me, Abstract Art is Like Freedom

I am trained as a fine artist. In the process of doing realist paintings I have realized that I am restricted within the frame work of rules and regulations laid by the realistic art. Later I have broken my strings and came out to a free world where I am free, my thoughts are free, my emotions are free. I am no more bound by any rules. What else does an artist need? I have felt many times that I am out of a prison where I was sentenced for life....I feel like a bird in the sky and not a kite.. Abstract art is the art for modern world today and tomorrow. Focus on it.

Abstract Art

As a newbie I find doing abstract art is very beneficial in learning how to work the paint, finding out how to mix colors and work on composition without worrying about realism.

All Art is Abstract

I agree with Starrpoint, art is an effort to communicate. Abstract art is a hard subject because people want to understand the communication from the artist and when they don't they might come to the conclusion that it isn't art. So you come to ask yourself whether art is made by the artist alone or also by the beholder in a way.
—Guest Steve Jones

Love it or make do with it.

Love it or make something of it. It may be eye catching or eye burning. As long as the eye sees something, good, bad, love, or discusting, anything that requires a response.
—Guest lawman

It takes courage to appreciate it....

Before I started painting I scoffed at abstract art. I was one of those "my cat can do that" believers I decided to take an abstract class. I was humbled by my arrogance. After you paint onto the canvas it can be very difficult to "mess it up" ( which is pretty much required) and then "resolve" it. You never have to resolve a tree, an apple, a flower. Abscrate art requires the ability to suspend reality and trust your intuition. It also takes courage to " get it" when you are amoungst concrete thinkers....

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